The British Monarchy is, and always has been, a work in progress. That is probably the biggest reason it has survived as long and as well as it has. Most importantly, it has consistently adapted to the needs and demands of its people. In fact, it somehow seems to me that the British Monarchy is a reflection of all that is good about British society.
Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort, Prince Albert, did a great deal to make Britain the country that it is. However, even as Queen Victoria led a largely secluded life after Prince Albert died, her son Edward VII, while he was Prince of Wales, worked tirelessly to promote England’s interests at home and abroad. He invented the idea of royal appearances at home, opening things like the Tower Bridge and the Thames Embankment, and traveled very successfully throughout the world as a goodwill ambassador and peacemaker on behalf of his country. It was after his successful tour of India that Queen Victoria was named Empress of India.
Edward VII truly began the idea of a modern monarchy. He saw the need for the monarch of England to not only be the symbolic head of the government, but to be the heart and soul of his country and his people. His descendants have followed in his footsteps by continually changing with the times and adapting to new circumstances.
George V, Edward VII’s successor, further brought the monarchy into the future. At the outbreak of World War I, he changed the name of his family from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor to make it clear that his family and monarchy were fully committed to the British cause. George V also successfully welcomed in the first British Labour government, and originated the annual radio Christmas speech in 1932.
Edward VIII’s role in the British monarchy may have been short, but it was incredibly important. Though Edward VIII was charismatic, and charming, and well loved by his country, it is doubtful he could have provided the leadership England needed to maneuver through the hardships of World War II. When he abdicated just eleven months after his accession to marry Wallis Simpson, he gave Britain the reluctant hero for a king that they needed.
When Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George took the throne of England as King George VI, he swore to his country and himself that he would do his duty. Though not as charming as Edward VIII, King George VI had the backbone, the will, and the humility to be everything England needed in a time of great turmoil and change. He was the voice of the British people as World War II broke out, and he refused to leave London during the Blitzkrieg. I had a very dear friend who grew up in World War II England, and she spoke very fondly of The King and Queen visiting the bombed out buildings of London on a regular basis. When Buckingham Palace was bombed, The Queen Mother said she was thankful that she would now be able to look East Enders in the eye. The King and Queen were a stalwart symbol of the British spirit when Britain was fighting for her life. As the last Emperor of India, and the first head of the Commonwealth, George VI seamlessly oversaw the transition between the British Empire and the British Commonwealth. Through the last one hundred years, the British monarchy has been an island of stability in a world that is constantly changing.
The current monarch of Great Britain has continued the legacy of her father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Queen Elizabeth II has worked tirelessly for over sixty years to keep the promise she made when she was 21 years old. She promised she would devote her whole life to the service of her people and Great Britain. She has never waivered in her dedication or work. All the while, she has steadily, quietly, brought the British monarchy into the twenty-first century. Queen Elizabeth II was the first monarch to have her coronation televised, and that was only the first of many modernizations she has made. She has ensured religious freedom to her subjects as the ‘Defender of the Faith’, and she has offered advice and aid to twelve Prime Ministers, from Winston Churchill to David Cameron, all the while working to support good causes, searching out British subjects who deserve to be recognized for their contributions and generally providing an unchanging foundation to allow her country to thrive.
If their predecessors’ legacy and forward thinking have nurtured the relevance of the British Monarchy, I am confident that we can look forward to watching that same zeal permeate the reigns of Prince Charles and Prince William, who are preparing to fill Her Majesty’s shoes with a deep sense of purpose and responsibility. Long live the British Monarchy.